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The Holocaust : Railway Car

Railroads were essential to the killing process. Deportations out of German-occupied Europe were by train. Killing centers were deliberately situated along major rail lines in Poland. Forty-four parallel tracks led to the Auschwitz station alone; a special railroad spur ran directly into the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp.

Most deported Jews endured the torturous journey to death camps in ordinary freight cars under conditions of starvation, extreme overcrowding, and horrible sanitation. In winter they were exposed to freezing temperatures, while in summer they were enveloped in suffocating heat and stench. Many of those deported, especially elderly people and young children, died during the journey.

This authentic 15-ton freight car is one of several types that were used to deport Jews. Its cramped interior would have held 80 to 100 people. Deportation trains usually carried between 1,000 and 2,000 people whose crushing weight slowed the speed of travel to about 30 mph, greatly prolonging the ordeal.

Source: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Photograph by Arnold Kramer.